The declaration of the State of Emergency, and implementation of the Stay at Home directive, had an almost instantaneous effect on the lives of Victorians. Suddenly many people have found themselves at home, their local area now their world.
People have reconnected with their neighbours – in new ways, rediscovered their local communities and used the time for new creative pursuits. Notes in letterboxes offer to do shopping, teddies are tied to fence posts for bear hunting and people find ways to celebrate Easter and ANZAC day together but at a distance.
Community responses and connection
Across Victoria the Stay at Home directive has (re)introduced people to their neighbours and suburbs. Limited ability to travel for part of March, April and May opened our eyes to unexplored aspects of our local communities when venturing out for shopping and exercise, often on foot. Places we know best through a car window have been rediscovered with a childish sense of glee and excitement.
Small acts of connection and kindness spread joy without physical contact. Chalk messages and games on street footpaths, along with teddy bears in windows, provide surprise entertainment for families on daily walks. Notes offering assistance to older residents or care packages left on doorsteps provide connection for some of our more vulnerable neighbours. Meanwhile yoga classes on front lawns, over-the-fence drinks and socially distant street dance parties brighten up our days. We can only hope that this sense of community, which had disappeared in many areas through lack of time and apprehension, has re-emerged for good.
For six weeks, physical connection for most Victorians was reduced to the members of our households. For many, our other encounters occurred digitally or at a safe distance. Each of us has managed isolation in different ways. Images of 1000 piece puzzles and sourdough bread now fill social media accounts. Reimagining activities digitally has provided a sense of normalcy, such as daily morning coffee and weekly dance parties on Zoom.
Isolation hasn’t given everyone an opportunity to slow down and stay digitally connected with family and friends. For Victorians returning from overseas, isolation is synonymous with two weeks’ mandatory quarantine in a hotel room, visited only by nursing staff testing for COVID-19. For elderly Victorians, one of the most at-risk groups for COVID-19, isolation has been particularly challenging with many confined to their homes and cut off from family and loved ones.
Victoria’s creative arts community was one of the first sectors to experience cancellations and economic hardship due to coronavirus restrictions. The closure of venues, theatres, museums and galleries devastated artists and audiences. As Victorians responded to stay at home orders, creatives rallied online to raise fund for arts communities and to share their works.
State and local governments deployed quick-response funding for artists, independent collectives, micro-organisations and creative businesses negatively impacted by coronavirus. As physical doors closed, digital realms expanded: arts organisations pivoted to online channels offering virtual exhibitions and streamed programs.
The street became a space to express shared feelings of grief, hope and encouragement during lockdown —street art, chalk drawings on footpaths and window installations of teddy bears appeared. Inside homes we saw a rise in art and crafts activities. Makers also turned their skills to PPE, creating face masks and gowns for medical professionals.
Not everyone has been able to creatively respond during lockdown, but Victorians have been resourceful and imaginative in this crisis. Art has proved crucial for the mental health, education, and economic wellbeing of Victorian communities.
Remembering, celebrating and sharing during COVID-19
Our lives changed almost overnight with the first reports of COVID-19 in Australia. The physical closeness that bonded our families and communities is no longer possible.
Among our greatest challenges has been the prohibition of gatherings to mark milestones in our lives: births, birthdays, graduations, marriages and even funerals. The simple act of hugging someone, holding a hand or an arm around a shoulder, is no longer possible.
And more public moments for reflection and remembrance are also interrupted: Anzac Day, May Day, International Museum Day—and many more to come. Occasions of special significance for communities of belief, such as Passover, Easter and Ramadan are being commemorated in new, physically distant, ways.
Our need for connection, and the sharing of joys as well as sorrows, is strong. The happiest moments of pandemic isolation have come from birthday parties in front gardens, shouts of joy and laughter from loved ones in the street, and kisses sent through glass windows to grandparents.
One of the earliest and most potent symbols of Victorians’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic was supermarket shelves stripped bare. Toilet paper, hand sanitiser, pasta, flour— products flew off shelves faster than they could be restocked.
Panic buying is one particular response to coping with the fear and uncertainty created by a pandemic. The effects are exacerbated by fear of missing out and a herd mentality. Sometimes panic buying satisfies a functional need and makes some sense— more people are at home baking and so buying flour. There are also times it doesn’t make sense: do you really need 100 rolls of toilet paper for a possible two to four week lockdown?
Shortages in an array of other products quickly followed the great toilet paper crisis. Gym and office equipment flew out the door, along with vegetable seeds and DIY products.
In response, many businesses have worked to quickly provide alternative supply chains. We’ve seen farmers delivering produce directly, McDonald’s offering drive-through eggs and milk, and Bunnings selling gym equipment.
The start of 2020 was horrendous for many rural producers in Victoria. Many were affected by the massive bushfires across the state, but they were looking forward to a better rest of the year to make up the shortfall.
This photo of empty shelves in the toilet paper and nappy aisle of a Woolworths supermarket was taken during the COVID-19 pandemic. It references the toilet paper panic buying happening around the world.
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